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Roundup: iPhone accessories to help you get a better night’s sleep

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While many of us figuratively feel like we sleep with our iPhones(s aapl), I’ve been literally doing just that for the past few months, testing a variety of sleep monitoring and maintenance tools. Here are some resulting recommendations for getting a better night’s sleep, thanks to some third-party hardware and software.

Zeo Personal Sleep Coach $199

With the Zeo, you wear a headband to bed each night that communicates wirelessly with an alarm clock base. The band determines your “optimal” wake period within a certain window of time. The data is stored on an SD card, which you must then upload manually to Zeo’s website after each night.

While it was nice to know the quality of my sleep and how often I woke, uploading the data each morning was cumbersome and I’d frequently forget to do it. The headband was very uncomfortable and would often slip off. After a few weeks, I had to return the unit since it was completely useless to me, but at least it came in handy for benchmarking other devices (yes, at one point I had no less than four devices attached to me during sleep).

Best use: Hard to find one, unfortunately.

BodyMedia Body Sync $249 plus $12.95 a month

This device is primarily a weight loss monitoring tool you wear 24 hours a day, seven days a week, taking it off only to recharge and shower. You wear this device near your tricep on your upper arm, and it’s about the size of a iPod nano. It monitors how much time you were in bed, but doesn’t take into account how restful that sleep was and doesn’t have an alarm function. Unlike other devices, you don’t have to set it. It’s always watching you and syncs via Bluetooth.

After wearing it during a work out, I was able to figure out the optimal time to exercise in the evening so that I’m not too “revved” up before bed. I’d monitor my metabolism in real-time and figure out how many hours it took for my body to go from calorie burning mode to relaxation mode. I also liked knowing how many calories I burned while sleeping.

This device isn’t cheap, and the monthly monitoring adds to the cost, but if you want to see how sleep (or lack thereof) impacts your weight loss goals, this is a great product.

Best Use: Sleep monitoring in conjunction with weight loss.

Lark $129/$189 w/ coaching

The Lark is a wristband you wear while sleeping. It comes with its own charging station that also serves as an iPhone stand, although you can also charge it using any mini USB cable.

The Lark monitors your sleep to analyze how many times you woke and how “restful” the sleep was. It gives you a rating such as fair, poor, OK and good. For an additional charge, you can pay for sleep coaching, which will use the results to suggest better sleep habits. The Lark is unique in that instead of initially waking you up with an alarm, it vibrates silently. This enables you to wake yourself without waking your sleep partner and the rest of the house. My spouse was quite pleased with this and so was the dog. If you don’t awake from the vibration, the iOS app will use a failsafe alarm sound to wake you “gently” with the sounds of birds tweeting.

During testing, I often found the vibration rather jarring, and sometimes more disturbing than the actual alarm. I felt like someone was shaking me awake as if there were some kind of emergency. Over time I got used to it and learned that vibration meant it was time to wake up, but still was caught off guard some mornings. Sleeping with the device on was no problem. It was quite comfortable and felt like I was wearing a watch.

The failsafe alarm sound wasn’t changeable and on occasion I didn’t always hear it. While the coaching was interesting, it was hardly worth the extra $60 in my opinion. The advice wasn’t personalized, but simply took aspects of my sleep and offered suggestions (even some contradictory ones).

The iOS app wants to be in the foreground at all times, which made it difficult to use music apps such as Ambiance. If another app presented a notification while sleeping, it was confusing to get the Lark app back to alarm mode. If you want to snooze the alarm, you can’t set a specific time but are given a menu of choices in five-minute intervals.

Best Uses: Waking up without disturbing the household, nominal sleep monitoring and suggestions.

Wakemate $59.99

Wakemate has had a long rocky road to market: constant delays, hardware defects in initial release and buggy iOS apps. Luckily, the device seems to have overcome its difficult beginning and is now stable and reliable.

The Wakemate is a small Bluetooth USB device wrapped in a fuzzy terry cloth band that you wear around your wrist to sleep. It doesn’t vibrate like the Lark, but simply records your sleep movements and then uploads them to your iOS device and the Internet when it’s time to wake up. The iPhone (or iPad) stays safe on your beside table.

Wakemate’s unique feature is that, similar to the Zeo, it claims to monitor your sleep patterns and wake you up at an optimal time in your sleep cycle. I didn’t experience any perceived benefits from this, but did notice that the Zeo and Wakemate woke me generally at the same time. Wakemate’s iOS app allows you to customize the ringer to a song or one of its selected melodies. The default alarm was quite pleasant and not the blaring klaxon of the typical alarm clock nor the too-gentle sound I experienced with the Lark. Since it wakes you at an “optimal” time, you can’t snooze the alarm. It forces you to get up plain and simple. Personally I liked that rigidity.

Sleep result numbers were nearly identical to that of the Zeo. The “sleep score” was within 10 percent, and I felt it accurately recorded my wake and sleep times. Even though I might be in bed more than I thought, I realized a lower sleep score meant a lack of quality in my sleep. The app gives you the ability to tag your sleep in order to analyze patterns such as what you ate or drank before bed or your stress levels. You can even post your results to Facebook and Twitter.

During my test period I was disappointed with all the device problems and the manufacturer was very slow to respond. Although there was a known defect in their product, they still required owners to pay the shipping back to manufacturer. One mistake can be safely ignored, but I did see a pattern of problems and sincerely hope they get their house in order because I really liked the product.

Of all the devices I used, this was the most economical. A one time investment of $60 covered the device and there were no subscription fees to continue using it. Of course, that could change and the device isn’t usable without the app.

Best Uses: Detailed analysis of sleep patterns.

What will I be sleeping with now on? The Wakemate now has a trusted position in my bedroom. The times I forgot to charge it, I truly missed the analysis. I do like the Lark for those times I have to wake up extra early and don’t want to disturb the house. Who says I have to sleep with just one?

Disclosure: Bodymate, Lark, and Wakemate provided samples and service for this review.

6 Responses to “Roundup: iPhone accessories to help you get a better night’s sleep”

  1. Loop Nano

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  2. I don’t think you gave the Zeo a fair shot. You don’t have to upload your sleep data every morning; you can upload it whenever the spirit moves you. I put my data in once every couple of weeks. The headband slipped off the first few nights but after I got used to it, that problem disappeared.

    What I like is the quality of the data and the fact that the website tracks your history.

    • Both Lark and Wakemate track via the web and you don’t have to upload–it does it automatic. Having used the devices extensively, I found much more value tracking the sleep day by day than weeks at a time. In fact, Zeo’s sleep coach “reminded” me the importance of uploads on a daily basis.

  3. Hi Dave,

    You struck a chord with me when you opened your post with the comment about many of us feeling like we sleep with our iPhones. Mine’s on the nightstand for last minute email checks and website checks before turning out the light…at home or on the road. I may even drift off listening to a podcast or “Coast to Coast” segment. I’m not sure what my optimal wake-up time is, but I know when I need to get up. And, the iPhone alarm works just fine for this.

    But, you’ve taken the nocturnal use of the iPhone to a whole new level with the sleep monitoring thing. I didn’t even know this kind of app existed before reading your post.

    Don Roberts

  4. Misha

    You should also check out Sleep Cycle, which uses the iPhone itself, placed on the bed under your pillow, to monitor your sleep and wake you at the appropriate time during a specified window. I’ve found that it is quite effective and much better than a regular alarm.

    • I investigated those briefly. The problem is I think it’s risky to sleep with an iPhone actually under your pillow. Granted I have a Griffin survivor case, but I just think these devices do a better job and reduce the risk of iPhone damage.